Some teams subscribe to the theory that it is beneficial to start the season with a relatively easy game to serve as a dress rehearsal of sorts and chalk up an early victory.
The Sewickley Academy boys lacrosse team took the opposite path.
The defending WPIAL Division 1 champions took a trip to Hilton Head, S.C., to open the season against the defending South Carolina state champions on a Friday night under the lights in front of a large partisan crowd on senior night. In the south, lacrosse teams generally start the season earlier. Hilton Head High School was already 8-0. Sewickley Academy was playing in its season-opener.
But it was the Panthers that looked like the team in midseason form.
Sewickley surprised the hosts with a convincing 10-3 win.
"That really set the tone," Sewickley Academy coach Tim Hastings said. "It is your first game of the year and you never know if things are going to start clicking. Until you are under pressure from another team, you are not sure how [your players] are going to react."
From there the Panthers have vaulted to a 10-0 start, including a sweep of Michigan powerhouses Birmingham-Seaholm and Detroit Country Day, a 10-9 overtime win at Upper St. Clair and a 15-13 win at home against North Allegheny.
"Those games are fun," Hastings said of playing the bigger schools in the area. "That is why you play. We knew Upper St. Clair was going to be a barn-burner and we knew they would be ready for us and we have a long history with North Allegheny."
The Panthers are doing this all without five of their 10 starters from last season, including goalie Max Pawk, a Dickinson recruit. Three midfielders and a starting defenseman also graduated.
"We had a very strong senior class [last year], but we had some kids coming up who we knew would be able to fill in for them," Hastings said.
"The nice thing this year is that we are pretty even throughout the lineup. If one part of our game is not clicking, another part of our game is able to pick it up."
Forward Ed Lalle, a four-year starter, is the leader of the team. A Towson University recruit, this sturdy 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior set a school record last season with 81 goals and 37 assists. The goal record may not stand very long. Through nine games he already had 31 goals.
"He is very, very strong and very physical," Hastings said. "He has excellent stick skills and that is the reason he is going Division I."
Junior Rob Kendall is a fine complement to Lalle on the attack. Hastings describes Kendall as more of a finesse player. Through nine games he had scored 18 goals. The other forward is senior Matt Peter, a University of Tampa recruit. Peter had scored 17 goals.
Senior midfielder Ben Brown is actually second on the team in goals, he has 22.
"When we look at the goals after the game, there are six or seven different guys who are scoring, that has been the fun thing about it," Hastings said.
"If they concentrate on Ed, we just dish it off to the other guys and the other guys get the goals. It tends to be difficult to defend."
The toughest games may lie ahead for Sewickley Academy. A big weekend trip looms on Saturday and Sunday when the Panthers travel to Ohio to play Dublin Scioto and Worthington Kilbourne. After they return, Mt. Lebanon awaits next Wednesday.
Last season Sewickley Academy and Mt. Lebanon met in the WPIAL Division 1 semifinals. Laxpower.com has Mt. Lebanon (8-3) ranked first and Sewickley Academy second. The Blue Devils have yet to lose to a WPIAL team.
Sewickley Academy defeated Greensburg Central Catholic, 9-2, in a game shortened by a thunderstorm Monday. The Panthers were scheduled to play Peters Township Wednesday.